Red Sox Chris Sale has tested positive for Covid-19 and will not make his scheduled start Sunday, per Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com (via Twitter). He’ll be placed on the Covid-19-related injured list, joining eight other Red Sox players who have either tested positive or are in protocol due to the recent team outbreak in Boston.
Major League Baseball’s health-and-safety protocols for the 2021 season stipulate that Sale will be away from the club for at least 10 days, further straining a rotation that has been heavily impacted by the team’s outbreak. Both Nick Pivetta and Martin Perez are currently on the Covid-related injured list, which has prompted recent starts from Kutter Crawford and Brad Peacock. Perez has been on the IL since Aug. 30 and could be nearing a return, and the Sox also currently have Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi and Tanner Houck in the rotation. The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham further reports that it’s also possible Pivetta could be activated to make Sale’s start Sunday.
The 32-year-old Sale missed the bulk of the 2021 season as he worked his way back from Tommy John surgery but has been excellent in five starts since rejoining the team. He’s yet to pitch beyond the sixth inning but carries a 2.52 ERA with a 27.5 percent strikeout rate and 5.5 walk percent rate — both quite strong marks — in his first 25 innings since being activated.
The Red Sox have a fairly tenuous hold on the top Wild Card spot in the American League, leading the Yankees by a margin of just one game. Three more teams — Toronto, Seattle and Oakland — are within two games of that second Wild Card spot and within three games of Boston’s top spot. The Sox have managed to remain in competition despite an outbreak that has seen 10 players test positive since late August.
Sale’s positive test comes less than 24 hours after Red Sox right fielder Hunter Renfroe controversially claimed in a WEEI radio appearance with Lou Merloni and Christian Fauria that Major League Baseball had told the Red Sox to “stop testing and just treat the symptoms” (Twitter link with audio). Asked in a follow-up to confirm that MLB had instructed the Red Sox to stop testing, Renfroe replied with a simple, “Yes.”
Both Major League Baseball and the Red Sox moved quickly to refute the claim. Julian McWilliams and Kate McInerny of the Boston Globe cited a league spokesperson who called Renfroe’s claim “completely wrong and inaccurate,” while the team issued a statement indicating it has “been following MLB’s COVID-19 protocols all season long.” The Red Sox added that they have “continued to test and [the league’s] medical staff has been very supportive.”
Renfroe has not further addressed his comments, and there’s been some speculation that he misconstrued the league’s policy of reduced testing frequency for vaccinated, asymptomatic players, which went into place back in June. Under those updated protocols, vaccinated players are not tested for the virus unless they either display symptoms or are deemed a close contact from a person known to have tested positive.